City of Derry 33, Highfield 10
All Ireland League Division 2B may not have been won just yet, but three intercept tries helped City of Derry take a huge stop toward the title with a clinical bonus point win over closest rival Highfield at Judges Road on Saturday.
The Munster mens’ arrival has been pencilled into the Derry calendars ever since the Cork side controversially became the first (and still the only) side to defeat Terry McMaster’s team thanks to a try 15 minutes into injury time back in November.
It was not so much that result but the nature of some highly disputably decisions that contributed to it that stuck in the Derry throats but on Saturday, the ‘rugby gods’ spoke with Andrew Semple in sparkling form.
Two tries from the Derry scrum-half, two from Simon Logue and one from No. 8 Stephen Corr put Derry 13 points clear of Sunday’s Well and 16 ahead of Highfield who drop to fourth, albeit with two games in hand.
While there never looked to be 23 points between the teams, Derry were disciplined, organised and ruthless and produced, for the second week in succession, a defensive performance of the highest order.
There was little indication of the high scoring second half to follow in a tense opening 40 minutes in which both teams looked nervous with the high stakes.
Things didn’t start well for the visitors who, after forcing Derry back to their own 22, lost out-half and main kicker Paddy O’Toole to a dislocated shoulder but they continued to press the home side.
Eventually Derry were penalised for not rolling away from a ruck and Dylan Horgan kicked Highfield into a 14th minute 3-0 lead.
Derry regrouped and began to impose themselves on proceedings. Both packs looked very evenly matched but Derry were by far the more accomplished of the respective back lines yet on at least two occasions they passed up potential tries before finally getting over the line with 30 minutes gone.
The Judges Road side looked to have over elaborated and lost momentum in midfield until Richard McCarter produced a huge ‘miss’ pass which took out nearly all of the Highfield cover and when it arrived at Simon Logue, there is no better finisher in the division. He went over in the corner with Neil Burns producing a superb conversion for 7-3.
And that’s how they remained at half-time, Horgan missing a penalty to reduce the deficit.
Highfield got the perfect start to the second half when Derry were guilty of a couple of missed tackles as visiting No. 8 Jeremiah Cronin forced his way over with Horgan kicking the conversion for a 10-3 lead only three minutes after the break.
Derry needed a big response and it came from Semple. Always alive to the unexpected, the Derry scrum-half nipped in to intercept a loose pass inside the Highfield 22 and raced into the corner. To rub salt into the Highfield wounds, Burns again converted and Highfield had led for exactly two minutes.
The Munster side looked superb up front but were more than suspect when they tried to play an expansive game and Derry exploited that indecision every time Highfield tried to open up.
Six minutes after his first try, Semple repeated the trick in even more impressive fashion, intercepting this time inside his own half and racing down the left wing for Derry’s third try. Again, Burns’ kick was equal to Semple’s brilliant piece of skill for a 21-10 lead.
Highfield tried to force Derry back but when they couldn’t get any change out of the home pack, they once again tried to go wide and the result was just as demoralising for them.
An attempt to find winger James Cassidy saw the ball thrown behind the Highfield player and the one man you don’t want gathering a loose pass if you’re a visiting team is Simon Logue. The Derry winger picked up inside his own 22 but the covering runners had given up long before their own line as Logue raced away from everyone to run the length of the pitch and secure the four-try bonus point.
With still more than 20 minutes to play, Highfield continued to press but found Derry a tough nut to crack and worse was to follow for the visitors. A loose line-out inside the Highfield 22 gave Stephen Corr the opportunity to collect possession at the back and charge through two despairing tackles and leave Derry 33-10 up with 20 minutes to go.
The game was over but Highfield still came at Derry although their frustration threatened to boil over on a number of occasions with Semple a target for much of the Highfield ire.
The game ended with a harsh yellow card for the Derry scrum-half and his Highfield counterpart, Chris Bannon, but the battle had already been won.
City of Derry: Rory Squires, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Stephen Dickey, John Burns, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Neil Burns, David Funston, Ian Bratton, Ali Beckett. (Replacements) Ross harkin, David Houston, Criag Huey, Richard Baird, Stuart Simpson.
Highfield: John O’Callaghan, Dave O’Hea, Ian McCarthy, David Kelly, Fintan O’Sullivan, David O’Connell, Dylan Lane, Jeremiah Cronin, Chris Bannon, Paddy O’Toole, Sean Quaid, Paul Stack, Ben Murphy, John McLaughlin, Dylan Horgan. (Replacements) Conor Forde, Dave O’Callaghan, Marc Murphy, James Cassidy, Brian O’Hea.
Referee: Oisin Quinn (IRFU)